The AU women’s basketball team began practice for the 2005-06 season with new faces, but the same approach: win the Patriot League title.
Despite preseason polls picking AU fifth in the PL, second-year head coach Melissa McFerrin and her staff will expect big things from the Eagles. Her squad, marked by five freshmen, is young and inexperienced, but that’s not stopping senior captain Tala Hadvai from thinking big.
“We are going to be shocking some people this year,” Hadavi said.
Hadavi and her mentality may be just what AU needs to gear up for PL title run. And after finishing 7-7 in the PL last season, McFerrin said this year’s team is better fit to run her system.
“We are trying to play a much faster pace than we did last year,” McFerrin said. “We are a better passing and ball-handling team this year because we have guards. I’m hoping that translates into fewer turnovers and a better running game.”
For the Eagles, fewer turnovers means fewer than the 18.5 a game they averaged last season, a rate that mades it difficult to win games.
Yet, before Hadavi went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the team had better success taking care of the ball. Back this season, Hadavi expects her team and herself to improve
“I have higher expectations for myself than what anybody puts on me,” Hadavi said. “I want to be the best guard in the league.”
For now, McFerrin said there’s a bigger concern with interior depth. “That’s the un-known,” she said about the frontcourt. “All we can do is age quickly and get some game experience.
“We have four players drilling on the post, but only one has actually played a game for AU.”
Luckily for the Eagles point production from the post isn’t the basis of their offense. Transition buckets and from the 3-point line will remain top priorities for the Eagles’ offensive.
“We are not trying to limit 3-point shots, just the people who shoot them,” McFerrin said.
The Eagles boast four perimeter threats, Hadavi, Nicole Ryan, Katie Hirschler and Talicia Jackson. Ryan and Jackson are freshman who have yet to experience college play. But coach McFerrin said she’s been impressed with their practice effort so far.
“They love to be in the gym, they love to play, and they love to compete,” she added.
The Eagles will need that heart and desire to counteract their inexperience. But they “need to manage that [youth], and not let it temper team expectations,” McFerrin said, adding that the shooter-heavy PL could be decided by defensive cohesiveness and overall toughness
“We want to be the known as the rough-and-tumble team in the conference,” McFerrin said. “I call it physicality.”
Many teams strive for that approach, and with good reason. If an opposing team’s execution is disrupted and psyches toyed with, they often can’t recover. Yet, the size and strength of the women Eagles doesn’t favor building a reputation as bruisers.
The rest of the league might not know what to expect of this year’s Eagles. But the coaches and players are expecting a lot.
“We talked about the fact that we were picked to finish fifth in the conference,” McFerrin said. “These ladies were not recruited with those things in mind. Our goal is to compete for a championship every year.”